When Nancy Linenkugel was a little girl, she played “board room” with her family. They would have a family meeting, and she would run it. “When my brothers acted up, I would adjourn the meeting,” she says. She also had an altar in her bedroom, where she played “Mass,” complete with Necco candy wafers for the host.
Linenkugel was born to be a businesswoman and sister. By the time she was 37, she was the CEO of the Providence Health System and Hospital in Sandusky, Ohio. She’s also served as a college president and on the leadership team representing her order, the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio, on the Vatican’s Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
Now she is chair and director of the Department of Health Services Administration at Xavier, which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees to prepare students to manage health care entities such as hospitals and nursing homes. She took over in 2011, after the retirement of former director Ida Schick, who recruited Linenkugel. A graduate of the Class of 1980, Linenkugel is the first alumna of the program to serve as its chair.
“She knew I had a doctorate, I’d been a college president, a hospital CEO for 20 years, and I was an alum. And the fact I’m a nun was not bad for Xavier either,” she says. “But I turned them down initially.”
She had too much to do in her role on the leadership team for her order—running hospitals, colleges and retirement funds. But Xavier—and Schick—were persistent. Finally, Linenkugel took the job on a part-time basis until her term on the leadership team ended. “It was a year of never having time to breathe. But I felt this was what God was calling me to do. I had what Xavier was looking for.”
Raised in a strongly Catholic family, it’s no wonder she leaned toward a life of service as a sister. She spent her early years with the Sisters of St. Francis at the Little Flower School in Toledo. She remembers one day when she was in the second grade, she was sitting in class looking at a message inside one of her books. It read: “Maybe God is calling you to be a priest, a brother or a sister.” And she closed her eyes and said to herself, “God, are you calling me?”
“I got this sense that yes, I was being called,” she says. “So I decided I was going to be a nun.”
She never wavered from that point forward, even asking her parents to let her enter the convent at age 14. But her mother insisted she complete high school, and she did, becoming a percussionist with the school band. When she was offered a music scholarship for college in 1968, she turned it down and entered the convent.
The day she left for the Motherhouse in Sylvania, her mother burst into tears. “I’ll never see you again,” she cried. But her mother’s was the first car in the parking lot the next weekend on visiting day, and Linenkugel was able to stay in close contact with her family during her years at the convent, where she earned degrees in social studies and education.
Her talent for leadership emerged when she was a teacher, and she was sent on a summer internship with the hospital CEO at Providence in Sandusky. She did so well that she was offered the master’s program at Xavier. “I loved it. It was the right thing to do,” she says. “I learned to be confident and purposeful and intentional.”
The degree led to leadership positions at hospitals in Steubenville for five years before she was sent back to Sandusky to be the chief operating officer at Providence Hospital. When the CEO left within six months, the job was handed to her.
But Linenkugel, who also earned a doctorate in management from Case Western Reserve University, was ready for the challenge. “I have good organizational ability,” she says. “I know how to get things done with other people. I am diplomatic. The key is I always explain things and communicate.”
She ran the Providence system for 15 years before returning to southern Ohio as president of Chatfield College, the order’s liberal arts college in Brown County and Cincinnati. What she brings to Xavier as a nun and a businesswoman is decades of experience managing people and systems—beginning with her brothers—while never forgetting that an organization’s purpose always has a human element.
“Running a hospital is a ministry,” she says. “At the end of every transaction there is a patient. You have to figure out how to take care of them and stay in business.”